Each weekday at 7 a.m., seven teenagers gather at St. Stephen and James Church in South Baltimore, grab their tools and head out to clean up the streets.
The young men, ages 14 to 19, collect trash on the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood's streets and sidewalks, water the flower-filled planters and maintain two public gardens.
Betty Bland-Thomas, community association leader and team coordinator, launched the effort to beautify the community and to give the teens summer employment. She figured that hiring neighborhood youth to clean would help them learn about their community and instill a sense of pride in their surroundings.
A city grant paid for two employees, and the neighborhood association and area businesses contributed enough to hire five more.
"We are an area near two sports hubs and a train station," Bland-Thomas said. "We are a gateway community to the city, and we get a lot of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. We want to be a beautiful community, too."
Before hiring, she interviewed prospects and their parents. She gave the crew safety pointers and passed out work gloves.
The teens earn an hourly wage, which will amount to about $1,200 for the summer. Keeping their neighborhood clean is not difficult, but initially it was not so rewarding either, they said. But five weeks into the campaign, the sweepers said, their example is taking root.
"I walk past these streets every day, and now I know how hard it is to keep them clean," said Allen Haydel, 19. "People are finally seeing us trying and they are getting the message."
Foot and vehicle traffic through the neighborhood leaves behind a lot of trash. Mondays often mean the highest volumes of plastic and glass bottles, food containers, wrappers and all manner of litter — remnants of those trekking to and from the stadiums.
"This work shows me that you really don't want to trash your streets," said DaJuan Braxton, 15. "A lot of the stuff I see could be recycled. I really would like to put out some recycling bins."
Within an hour, the teens usually fill several trash cans with debris, but the volume has decreased since they began working in late June.
"When they first started, there was a lot of trash," said Sam McClenon, an adult resident hired as the team supervisor. "But they have stayed on it every day and made a difference. The trash really has slacked off. People are noticing. Neighbors are coming out and thanking them."
The team also waters and weeds about 60 large flower pots that decorate the streets and maintains two large lots that the community has turned into gardens.
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"I really like watching the plants grow because we are taking care of them," said Kavont Griffin, 17.
From her porch steps on Leadenhall Street, Melvina Morton watches her sons — Kavont and 14-year-old Jamar Griffin — tackling debris with the team. She has been encouraging them to keep the streets free of debris since they were children.